Editor’s note: In the Deer Woods… is a new weekly column for NorthAmericanWhitetail.com that will spotlight different whitetail hunting personalities through a question and answer format. In our inaugural installment of In The Deer Woods… we spend some time with Gordon Whittington, Editor-in-Chief of North American Whitetail and co-host of North American Whitetail Television.
NAW: What’s your earliest memory of whitetail hunting?
GW: I grew up on my family’s cattle ranch in Central Texas, and my earliest memories of deer hunting involve going out with my paternal grandfather. His name was Des (short for Desmond) Whittington, and I’ve come to realize I take after him in many ways. He loved the outdoors, especially deer hunting. He’d grown up hunting and fishing to put food on the table in the thick woods of Southeast Texas in the early 1900s, and fortunately, he was always eager to share that knowledge with me. I believe I was six years old when I took my first whitetail, a doe. I was sitting on Grandpa’s knee in a makeshift ground blind when I shot her, using an old Model 92 Winchester carbine in .32-20. Grandpa has been gone for more than 20 years now, but we still have that old rifle — and I still have those memories.
NAW: Where’s your favorite place to chase whitetails?
GW: I’ve hunted them in roughly three dozen states and provinces here in North America, plus New Zealand. And a lot of those places are special in my mind. That said, I’ll never get Texas out of my blood. The Lone Star State is simply amazing as a whitetail producer. There are all sorts of different habitats to choose from, and you can find some great hunting in all of them. But if I had to pick one location to hunt the rest of my life, I believe it would be in the Panhandle. Mill Iron Ranch in Collingsworth County is owned by my good friends Don and Al Allred, and I’ve had the pleasure of hunting there twice. It’s a beautiful piece of land and has fantastic trophy whitetail hunting. That’s about as good as it gets, in my opinion.
NAW: If you could use only one technique for hunting whitetails from now on, what would it be?
GW: With a rifle, it would be spot-and-stalk during the rut in wide-open but rolling terrain. Having grown up in a rural area with distant horizons, I’m still most at home in open country. It might not look like deer “woods,” but there are some awesome bucks in that kind of habitat. Being able to see a big buck from way off, then figure out how to close the gap, is tremendous fun. I guess you could say it’s the whitetail equivalent of “western” big-game hunting. As for bowhunting, I’d absolutely vote for using a decoy. I get a real charge out of seeing a mature buck come out, spot a buck decoy and then start posturing as he approaches it. Not only is this a really fun way to hunt, it’s also incredibly effective under the right conditions. At the right time of season, and in the right kind of spot, nothing beats a buck decoy for great shot opportunities.
NAW: You’ve chased whitetails for quite awhile, how have things changed over the years and how have things stayed the same?
GW: We now have so many helpful tools for growing and hunting whitetails that it seems almost nothing is the same as it was when I was growing up. For instance, back then there weren’t any trail cameras or other devices for monitoring deer activity. If you wanted to know how big the deer was that was using a fence crossing, you either had to sit there and watch for it or do something creative, like pouring some water on the ground and then coming back a few days later to see what size track had been left behind. And hunting from a tree generally meant climbing onto a limb and waiting — with no safety harness or even a rope keeping us from falling straight to the rocks below. I guess those of us who lived to tell about such mistakes can only say we were fortunate, because we sure weren’t smart. Some folks back then didn’t even realize bucks shed their antlers every year, and nobody knew much of anything about aging deer by their teeth or body characteristics. And most of us foolishly believed bucks with spike racks were genetically inferior. So a lot has changed, both in how we manage the resource and how we hunt. But one thing that hasn’t changed too much is the animal itself. Deer back then were opposed to being shot, and they still are today. Big ones in particular! Mature bucks are by nature largely nocturnal, regardless of hunting pressure.
GW: It’s hard to narrow it down that much, because there have been so many great moment. One of the greatest, though, was getting to hold and profile the earliest Boone and Crockett trophy of all time, the Arthur Young buck from Pennsylvania. That deer was shot in 1830! Having the opportunity to present this magnificent trophy to our viewers during the 2011 broadcast season was special to me — especially since the current owner of the rack also owns the hunter’s old rifle and powder horn. The latter dates to before the Revolutionary War! I’ve had a number of other memorable experiences in shooting our show, but I’m not sure any would top that. Honestly, though, just getting to be in the deer industry as a full-time professional is a blessing and a privilege. Since our first episode aired in the summer of 2004, I’ve hunted whitetails from the mountains of Virginia to the southern tip of New Zealand and many places in between. Not only getting to observe nature at its finest but also having a chance to spend time in camp, on the road and in the woods with so many great friends is incredibly rewarding. It’s a cliche to say there’s way more to hunting than killing, but that’s the undeniable truth.
NAW: If you had one last whitetail hunt, who would it be with, and where?
GW: Boy, that’s a hard one. I’ve been to so many places I’d love to hunt again, and there are many others still on my “bucket” list. There also are lots of folks I’ve never hunted with but would love to. But if I knew I were down to my last hunt, I guess I’d want it to be on the old home ranch in Texas, with my wife, Catherine. No matter the outcome of that last go-round, I could take off my boots, hang up my gear and call it a career without a single regret.